The days of bus drivers like Mr. Sheridan are long gone

Published 3:17 pm Monday, May 25, 2015

It was just a plain little wooden store by the side of the highway. Nothing in particular distinguished it from any other store at the time alongside the country roads of the parish — except for a group of children who passed it twice every day as they rode the big yellow bus to school.

Although the building still stands, it hasn’t been a store for a long time. It is easy to imagine how it looked in the mid to late 1940s when I was a child.

If I squeeze my eyes really tight, I can recall how it looked on the inside. A few shelves holding just the bare necessities that country people would want to pick up during the week between trips to town. A favorite spot was the candy counter and the big Coca-Cola box with glass bottles of Coke cooled down in real ice.

The only time we visited the store was the one day of the month when our bus driver, Mr. J. D. Sheridan, got paid. At that precise point on the route returning home, there were approximately 10 to 12 children left on the bus. Mr. Sheridan always stopped on that day and let every child on the bus go into the store and pick out one nickel’s worth of whatever we wanted. What a treat! A nickel would buy a candy bar, a Coke or even a box of Cracker Jacks.

Mr. Sheridan was very strict about behavior on the bus, but on that day, when he gave each of us a nickel as he smiled his big grin, we knew he was really our friend. Sitting in the bus, he waited for us to come back with our treats. He obviously got a great deal of pleasure seeing each of us step back on the bus grasping our choice.

Over the past 35 plus years, I’ve probably written about Mr. Sheridan at least a couple of times, but it bears repeating because times have certainly changed. The other things he let us do while riding on that bus are unheard of today, but memorable — just like our nickel treats.

Right after school started back in the fall, it was time for crabapples. It so happened that there was a crabapple tree right by the side of the highway on the way home. With the same few children left on the bus, he would stop for a few minutes in the afternoon and let us gather a pocket full of crabapples.

And…he kept a box of salt on the bus to eat with the crabapples, shaking a little in the palm of each little outstretched hand as we returned to the bus. (The modern nutritionists would have a field day with that salt!)

A little later in the year, he would stop at a wild persimmon tree and let us gather persimmons to eat. Small brown bags magically appeared to hold the persimmons we picked off the ground. I would suppose a bus driver today would be severely reprimanded for stopping and letting children off the bus, if only for a few minutes. Children of today probably wouldn’t know what to do with crabapples and wild persimmons anyway!

When I was in elementary school, Kool-Aid first came on the market. Kids soon learned Kool-Aid powder from those packets was much better poured out in the palm of the hand and licked, than it was stirred up in any pitcher with water and sugar to drink. The pure Kool-Aid (without any sugar) tasted very sour, much like the Sweet Tarts kids love today.

Many times as we got on the bus in the morning, we gave Mr. Sheridan the nickel we brought to spend at recess and asked him to buy a packet of Kool-Aid for us during the day. When we got back on the bus in the afternoon to go home, he handed out our packs of Kool-Aid. He never disappointed us.

Our daily bus trips were also an adventure because he would frequently give a ride to people who had no other way of getting to Franklinton. They were not hitchhikers but people he knew as they were always on the bus when we got on. They usually also rode back with us in the afternoon.

There was one man in particular that rode the bus often, an immigrant from one of the Baltic countries who didn’t speak much English. Mr. Sheridan took a dim view of anyone being disrespectful to this old gentleman, who almost always wore a big black wool coat and black hat. He was just a bit scary to the smaller children. Mr. Sheridan let us know that we were to be kind to this man because he needed kindness.

Mr. Sheridan kept order on the bus, mostly with good will. However, if the older children were acting up on the bus and he said, “I’d better not have to stop this bus,” he meant it and was very convincing.

Even so, it was obvious to us that he really loved children.

There are special people we meet as we travel the path of life. Some leave us with lasting impressions. As long as I have memory, Mr. Sheridan will remain one of my most unforgettable people.